Upset at camp closings, some Girl Scouts won't sell cookies - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Upset at camp closings, some Girl Scouts won't sell cookies

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Posted: Thursday, February 3, 2011 3:01 pm

Upset that their leaders are hanging out For Sale signs at cherished campgrounds, some local Girl Scouts say they may ditch the annual cookie sale in protest.

The talk comes as a regional Girl Scout council downsizes its extensive real estate portfolio. Even if the girls don't use the camps like they used to -- busy schedules have meant shorter camp stays -- some apparently don't want to lose them, and they may resort to democratic principles to prove it.

It's not an organized push. No one knows how many of the 45,000 scouts and 20,000 volunteers in the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys will actually refuse to sell cookies when the big sale kicks off this Saturday.

The council's leaders said they were unaware of boycott talk and described the opposition as a tiny group of vocal critics. But at the council's annual meeting Jan. 29, a showdown of sorts emerged between opponents of the camp sales and council leadership.

"It's been spreading like wildfire since Saturday," said Kim Zaiman, a troop leader. "There are many, many people that are withdrawing from the cookie sale."

"This might be the only way to get their attention to impact their bottom line," said Zaiman, who is part of Friends of River Valleys, a group fighting the camp shutdowns. The local council is making rash decisions about irreplaceable tracts of land and is selling them below market value, Zaiman said.

"Once it's gone, it's gone," she said.

River Valleys is hardly alone in wrestling with its real estate. Troops around the country started slimming down their property holdings after a national reorganization dropped the number of councils from 312 to 112, said Michelle Tompkins, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts USA. Opposition groups have popped up in many places, she said.

Tompkins said she hadn't heard about any cookie strikes, but isn't surprised, saying "people tend to threaten the cookie sale whenever they don't get what they want."

Altogether, the River Valleys council is unloading about four of its 12 camps. As part of a national directive in 2006 to merge Girl Scout councils around the country, five area councils merged to form River Valleys. That left it with more property than it needed, said Elaine Wyatt, chief financial officer of the River Valleys council.

The council is still in the black, Wyatt said, but needs to plan for the future. Generally Girl Scouts are suffering a slow, gradual membership decline. The council's budget dropped to $14.8 million in its 2010 fiscal year, down from $15.7 million in 2008, Wyatt said. Cookie sales, which make up two-thirds of its budget, wobbled as cautious customers pared back. Plus, the new Cookies Now program, which has Scouts sell cookies directly to customers instead of taking orders and delivering later, proved expensive to put in place.

Now the council is waiting to see how much of its $900,000 in United Way funding will disappear this spring. United Way told the council it would be focusing more on children and poverty.

There are also broader cultural changes afoot. Busy girls don't want to rough it at camp for two or three weeks at a time like they used to, she said. The most popular summer camps are three or four days long.

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